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How Testing Failures Allowed Coronavirus to Sweep the U.S.

The administration’s decision to forgo a WHO test and create its own had fateful consequences

On Saturday, Jan. 11 — a month and a half before the first COVID-19 case not linked to travel was diagnosed in the United States — Chinese scientists posted the genome of the mysterious new virus, and within a week, virologists in Berlin had produced the first diagnostic test for the disease.

Soon after, researchers in other nations rolled out their own tests, too, sometimes with different genetic targets. By the end of February, the World Health Organization (WHO) had shipped tests to nearly 60 countries.

The United States was not among them. Why the U.S. declined to use the WHO test, even temporarily as a bridge until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could produce its own test, remains a perplexing question and the key to the Trump administration’s failure to provide enough tests to identify the coronavirus infections before they could be passed on, according to POLITICO interviews with dozens of viral-disease experts, former officials and some officials within the administration’s health agencies.

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